Blu-ray Review: The Official Story (1985)

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Given a gorgeous 2K restoration for this Cohen Film Collection Blu-ray release, Luis Puenzo's The Official Story is set during the final years of the state sponsored terrorism that took place during Argentina's Dirty War, in which tens of thousands of citizens were "disappeared" following a military coup which installed a dictatorship in 1976.

An intimate family drama with far reaching global implications which sadly resonates even more so today, the 1985 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film stars Norma Aleandro as a history teacher at a prestigious all boys high school who cautious her students not to believe anything that hasn't made it into the history books.

Married to a powerful man with strong ties to the government, when one of her best friends from her own school days wanders back into her life with the horrific account of being disappeared and tortured, the privileged upper-class mother of beautiful adopted five-year-old Gaby (Analia Castro) is forced to confront just what facts and more importantly which fictions the country is being told.

Fearing that Gaby might be the child of someone who's been similarly disappeared and separated from her family by force – which in the Trump era takes on greater urgency – Alicia (Aleandro) begins to open her eyes to the world around her.

Vowing to get to the bottom of the mystery, Alicia must soon contend with the fact that the answers she finds have begun chipping away at the "official story" she'd been told about Gaby's origins by the man who shares her life and bed in the form of her husband Roberto (Héctor Alterio).

Knowing that it might be easy to overwhelm the audience with a film about the Dirty War given its tremendous scope and number of victims, Puenzo and co-writer Aida Bortnik (both of whom received an Oscar nomination for their passionate original screenplay), wisely use a Douglas Sirkian style domestic mystery to gradually introduce international viewers to the horrors of the war vicariously through Alicia.

And as Alicia starts to internally question (and then face) just how much she knows about how her husband makes his living, we start to wonder why this has never occurred to such an educated woman before, particularly given the massive demonstrations on the street by the families of those who've been disappeared.

However, it's only after the script makes it known how difficult it was for her to conceive wherein we realize that – especially given her obvious love for her daughter – how much she didn't want to do anything to jeopardize her family until coming face with another loved one (via Chunchuna Villafañe's Ana) made it impossible to ignore.

While during its ‘85 release, the film hit hard both as an adoption drama and a window into life in Argentina under a murderous dictatorship (especially given the fact that Puenzo accepted the Oscar exactly ten years to the day it began), in our current political climate, the now terrifyingly timely Story impacts viewers on whole new level in 2018.

Though over thirty years old, from the idea of being asked to believe a woman's accusations over her husband's protests (even if given their relationship, in Alicia's case Ana's words carry more weight) to the value of truth in a country flooded with governmental lies, spin, and propaganda, Story packs just as much topical firepower today.

With so much at stake from a narrative standpoint, Puenzo and Bortnik understand that there's no easy solution for the film's main characters. Likewise they're sensitive enough to know that to tie things up in a neat bow would be to undercut the ongoing, incomprehensible suffering of those whose loved ones were taken by the government during the coup never to be heard from again.

And though it feels as though the character of Ana falls off a metaphorical cliff as the film continues (and they just sub in a colleague in her place at a critical point in the plot), at the same time – not wanting to shortchange either woman's trauma – the filmmakers realize that Alicia's arc is stronger overall if she reaches the truth on her own. Fittingly, Aleandro garnered Best Actress honors from the Cannes Film Festival for her heartbreaking turn in the film, which likewise earned accolades from around the world.

Having been made in secret, after members of the cast and crew received death threats, the filmmakers announced that the production had been canceled, only to continue on with the film as planned.

A brave work that uses the story of one family to shine the world’s spotlight on tens of thousands of others, while it serves as an important historical document about the Dirty War, in light of current events, it also plays like a cautionary tale of the dangers of authoritarianism at a time when facts are too easily dismissed as fake.

Delivering the film to Blu-ray with a fascinating, near feature length behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of the first title from Argentina to receive an Academy Award, the stunning release from the Cohen Film Collection ensures that the power of Puenzo's picture will continue to live on.

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